Asking Apple to Slow Down

July 13th, 2016

The iOS refresh has been an annual event since the beginning. You can depend on learning about the next version a WWDC keynote and now, with an active public beta program, access to the new iOS within a month or so thereafter. While Apple had settled on longer cycles for the operating system formerly known as OS X, it became annual in 2011 with Lion, and free beginning in 2013 with Mavericks and mostly in sync with iOS releases.

While it’s true that Google’s Android also receives annual updates, it doesn’t matter so much. It usually takes a year or two for any decent number of users to receive that update, and usually it involves buying new gear with the older system. Also, Apple tends to add more goodies than Google, which, some suggest, may create the climate for more problems. So it usually takes a few updates for most things to settle down.

In saying that, Google, and Microsoft for that matter, have been known to release buggy updates too. Windows 10, which Microsoft has spent nearly a year forcing on PC users, sometimes uninvited, was shaky out of the starting gate and received frequent updates. Last I checked, it was in pretty decent shape as far as a Windows OS goes, but nothing excuses Microsoft’s shady practice of pushing unwanted background downloads, and launching unexpected installers in the middle of someone’s workday. No wonder the authorities are looking into such questionable practices.

When it comes to Apple, the obvious question is whether the company is doing too much. Right now, four operating system upgrades — macOS Sierra, iOS 10, watchOS 3 and tvOS 10 — are arriving this fall. Google has Android and Chrome OS, Microsoft has Windows 10 for desktop, 2-in-1 and mobile. But all based on the same code.

So is Apple taking on too much too quickly? While I suppose a new iOS might fuel sales of the next iPhone, how many people buy new Macs because of annual macOS upgrades?

I suppose recent updates make sense for watchOS, since it’s  a new platform with lots of room to grow, and tvOS is also in the early stages, even though the Apple TV is in its fourth generation.

To some, however, it may seem that Apple might be a little more deliberate in upgrading the OS on Macs and iOS gear. Take a little time to make sure that all the pieces are in place with new features, and that they are less flaky by release time. Sure, Apple has public betas for these two, and one hopes that the feedback is making them more robust. But I can’t help feeling that the program is more about product marketing than about improved Q&A.

It’s not that the last couple of iOS and Mac upgrades have been more stable as the result of public betas. They still arrive with the traditional point-zero defects that require several months to straighten out. In one notorious case, I can almost believe that Apple’s Mac development team was asleep at the wheel when Yosemite was released in 2014. The original and most bug fix updates contained serious Wi-Fi bugs that resulted in inconsistent connectivity and performance. It was such an obvious problem that it’s hard to believe it went unnoticed during the testing cycle. And what about all those public beta testers who go online via Wi-Fi and not a hard-wired Ethernet connection? How many of them dutifully submitted feedback about their problems?

Why were they ignored?

Finally, Apple ditched a new network resource and replaced it with an old network resource, and the problem apparently went away, months after Yosemite was first released.

Things fared better with El Capitan. Other than performance issues on older gear, of course. And don’t forget that Mail stalling bug I’ve described a few dozen times in these columns. But it still earns no more than a three-star rating at the App Store. All right, I suppose that might be due to the fact that people without problems are less apt to write reviews than those who encounter trouble. I wouldn’t care to make assumptions, but perhaps it might earn another star if the negative leanings were considered. But Apple is not going to do that — it will just post the numbers unaltered.

So while it may be a good idea for Apple to slow down, that’s not going to happen. Maybe some day, when the Apple Watch and Apple TV have matured. But iOS has been around since 2007, and it’s in pretty decent shape, so it’s not likely that Apple will change release schedules anytime soon. Even if a new macOS doesn’t necessarily accompany new models, the pattern has been established, and I suppose people expect to see these annual exercises.

Or maybe Apple should be throwing more money and people at the problem. But that is no guarantee of success. Microsoft has far larger programming teams, and it doesn’t seem as if things are more efficient over there. Apple has been successful with smaller groups of developers, and even if the results aren’t perfect, that may just be par for the course right now. Mac operating systems were always flaky at the starting gate even when major upgrades arrived several years apart.

So as much as some might hope that Apple will slow down, I expect things will move in the other direction.

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2 Responses to “Asking Apple to Slow Down”

  1. William Timberman says:

    One thing to consider is that the vaunted Apple ecosystem depends on the OS for its various devices being kept reasonably in sync. Features like continuity, the universal clipboard, etc., more or less demand that MacOs, iOS, and WatchOS talk to each other reliably. When they don’t, the frustrations of users can easily overwhelm the oohs and ahs heard at introductory keynotes. They bottom line here, I think, is that going slow isn’t really an option, even though the bugs that go unfixed update after update, and the applications that lag behind those of other vendors are part of the price Apple and its customers have to pay for the convenience of the new whizbangs Tim Cook is so proud of. (Everyone has his or her own list of irritations here. The long-term crappy syncing of the Podcast app across iOS and MacOS — fortunately much improved in the latest El Cap point updates — and the gradual falling behind of iBooks compared to the Kindle app are two that have particularly chapped my hide. When iBooks was first introduced, the user interface was light-years ahead of the Kindle app interface. Quite the opposite is true now, in my opinion — YMMV.) The short version: nobody, not even Apple, can get it all right all the time. It’s a matter of priorities.

  2. DaveD says:

    If Apple continues to release software with too many annoying bugs then I will get off the update train. Since upgrading OS X from version 10.10.5 to 10.11.5, I had gotten a sense that Yosemite was unfinished. The OS stability and performance were much better after the end of the update cycle. While it is still early with running El Capitan, some app crashes experienced under Yosemite have not occurred and overall system performance is quite good. However, Safari still appears to be a work-in-progress.

    Of course, prior OS X new releases had bugs. Maybe due to the OS was truly a work in progress back then, I was more forgiving. I perceived that Mac OS is a matured operating system since Snow Leopard. I expected Apple to be more diligence when replacing its aging components or incorporating new features.

    I prefer to stay with Apple software and ecosystem. It is a “been there, done that” with Windows. Have zero needs for it being a continuous work-in-progress OS and many scores of updates. It is like having that bad feeling when another Adobe Flash update is around the corner.

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